BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Leaders for the Berkeley Heights Education Association expressed disappointment Tuesday night after the negotiation meeting between the BHEA and the Berkeley Heights Board of Education did not bring the two sides closer to a settlement.

According to the BHEA, they have been working without a contract since June 30. "We have been willing to meet with the board, however, this is the first time since June we are meeting," said Pam Wilczynski, president of the BHEA and Columbia Middle School Science Teacher.

More than 100 teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals and interpreters from all six district schools showed up for a rally outside of the Board of Education offices, where a negotiation meeting was held Tuesday evening.

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"It's a great turn out. It shows unity, solidarity and great leadership," said NJEA representative Dominick Giordano. "It would be great if the mediator and the board members come in and see this great support and this good turn out -- it creates a lot of urgency."

"It makes a statement to show we are all united," said Dan McGovern, BHEA leader and teacher at Gov. Livingston High School. "We firmly believe that it is fair for us to get a fair equitable contract. We want to end this too. We want a fair contract. We teach their children."

"Every three years, the group has to go back to the negotiation table to negotiate the terms and conditions of what their compensation will be," said Giordano. "It's grueling -- until there's a settlement, these folks are frozen in place salary wise. [However,] their health care and the other liabilities go up, they don't freeze."

The BHEA is looking to find a fair middle ground regarding salaries and language issues regarding insurance.

In 2011, Governor Chris Christie signed Chapter 78, P.L. 2011 into law. This law provides for changes to the manner in which the State-administered retirement systems* operate and to the benefit provisions of those systems, according to the NJEA website. The law also changes the manner in which the State-administered Health Benefits Programs operate and the employee contribution and benefit provisions of those programs.

The BHEA is in "Tier 4" of the employee contribution scale, which is the highest level of contribution, representing a 33-percent increase in participant contribution over the prior year's contribution. "This scale is a standard rate the teachers are paying. They are paying 30 to 34-percent of their insurance premium," said Giordano.

"We noticed today that our paychecks are less because our insurance contribution went up and our pension contribution went up, yet, this is not reflected in our salaries," said Wilczynski. "We are losing money. All we ask is for a fair settlement, that's all."

Tuesday night's meeting between the BHEA and the Berkeley Heights Board of Education negotiation's committee was the first meeting since the negotiation was declared in impasse in June. The mediator was brought in to Tuesday's meeting, however, no progress on a settlement  was made.

"The BHEA negotiating team is extremely disappointed and frustrated after tonight. Our next meeting is scheduled for December," said Wilczynski.

Related article: Board Equally Disappointed Over Lack of Progress with BHEA Contract Negotiations